Haile Gebrselassie has upped the ante in his extraordinary public row with Mo Farah by claiming that the British star “punched and kicked” a husband and wife during what he said was an unprovoked attack while Farah stayed at his hotel in Ethiopia.
Farah’s coach Gary Lough immediately responded by insisting the four-times Olympic champion was acting in self-defence after an Ethiopian male athlete threatened his training partner – and his wife came up to Farah holding dumbbells.
On a second day of dramatic claim and counterclaim between two of the greatest distance athletes in history, Gebrselassie also alleged he had saved Farah from being questioned by police after the fight at his Addis Ababa hotel in January.
“Farah said to him: ‘Why are you following me?’ But the guy said he wasn’t – and that he was just doing his work,” Gebrselassie told the Guardian. “Immediately Farah punched them and kicked them by foot. Especially the husband. There were lots of witnesses. He cannot deny it because there was enough people inside the gym who saw the action.”
Gebrselassie insisted he ensured the incident did not go any further. “Always when he does something wrong or whatever, we take care of him because he is a big name. When he reacted to the two athletes in the gym, and he kicked and punched, he was almost in police custody. But I talked to the police and said: ‘This is Mo Farah, he is a big athlete, he is an international name. Leave him.’
“The police said: ‘Haile, why are you saying like this? This is a criminal.’ I said: ‘Please, please please.’ He escaped the police without a case. He left Ethiopia without any questioning. And finally, he apologised for the attack – ‘Okay, no problem, I was very angry, blah blah blah.’ I have always taken care of him in different ways. But he treated us the wrong way.”
However Lough, who was with Farah at the time of the fracas, told the Guardian that Gebrselassie’s account was incomplete and one-sided. He said the incident occurred when Farah was performing some special exercises at the gym, which were being copied by an Ethiopian athlete, who was deliberately doing them in front of the British star.
“The Ethiopian athlete then moved and looked like he was about to attack Farah’s training partner Bashir Abdi – so Mo tried to protect his friend by swinging a punch,” Lough said.
Lough said that when the scuffle ensued, Farah accidentally struck the wife of the Ethiopian athlete on the arm. The wife then came up to Farah holding weights and dumbbells.
Farah’s team also insisted it was a brief fracas that was quickly forgotten – with Lough adding that Farah had long made up with the athlete.
A spokesperson for Farah accepted there had been an incident at the gym a number of weeks ago, “at which Haile was not present but it was categorically not of Mo’s making”. She said: “He immediately raised a complaint to the highest level within the police force. The individuals concerned were warned that any further threatening behaviour towards Mo would result in police action. This incident highlights again the failure by hotel management to take safety seriously.”
The contretemps between the two men began at the London marathon press launch on Wednesday when Farah picked up the microphone to announce that the Ethiopian legend had ignored his pleas for help after a Tag watch and £2,600 in cash was stolen from one of his hotels.
Gebrselassie, who won two Olympic gold medals and broke 27 world records during a glittering career, responded by accusing Farah and his entourage of “multiple reports of disgraceful conduct” during their stay. He also claimed the Briton had not paid his $3,000 hotel bill, despite a 50 per cent discount.
Farah’s team insist these claims were merely an effort to distract from the original theft. In a statement they claimed that “members of his hotel staff used a room key and stole money and items from Mo Farah’s room [there was no safe as it was faulty, and Mo requested a new one]”.
No hotel staff were charged, however, and speaking to the Guardian Gebrselassie expressed his regret that he had not done enough to stand up for the five hotel workers who were left in police cells for three weeks after the theft was reported.
“I told the police, it is very clear, this is an international issue – we have to find out where his property is,” Gebrselassie said. “Five people were there at the time. All of them were took by the police. The police arrested them for three weeks. Would that happen in England? No way.
“I ended up not going back to my hotel for weeks – I was afraid of my own people who work in my hotel. I have to tell you something, the families of those in custody were very angry I didn’t do anything to help because of Mo Farah.”
Gebrselassie also claims that the British star employed an Ethiopian lawyer who asked for 500,000 Ethiopian birr (£13,400) to cover the cost of the theft. “If it is true he has lost that much money, then he is sorry that he cannot bring this to court,” he said. “The only thing he can do is destroy my name and destroy my hotel.”
He also made it clear that he did not intend to back down. “He hired a lawyer in Ethiopia. And we have our own lawyer. And now the fight will start and we will see – and one of us will be the winner.”
Haile Gebrselassie and Mo Farah dispute in Haile’s hotel in Ethiopia